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|   Delicious Jams And Jellies  |
|  Homemade - Guarenteed Fresh  |
|                               |
|         $3.50 per jar         |
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"Mrs. Millner, are you here?" It was unusual to find the town jelly lady not at the counter. I'd come for my weekly jar of strawberry jam during my evening walk; perhaps the old woman was eating dinner in the back of the shop.

"Coming, dearie," the sweet old crone's voice called out. She appeared in the doorway, coming upstairs from what I presumed was the storage room in the basement. She had to store all those jars somewhere, right? "The usual this week?"

"Right, one jar of strawberry please." I fished the two dollars in change from my pocket and placed it on the counter. She looked at me and frowned.

"I'm sorry, but it's going to be three-fifty this week. The price of jars went up again."

I pulled the few coins that I'd been saving for the soda fountain from my other pocket and added them to the rest. "It's worth it," I said, "You make the best jam I've ever had. It's just sweet enough and not too tart. What's your secret?" I asked her this every week and she always gave me the same answer - It's an old family recipe - but tonight she surprised me.

"How'd you like to see how it's done?" she asked.

"Are you serious? Sure!" I probably came across a little overenthusiastic, but I didn't care. I was finally going to learn the Millner family jam secret. She locked the front door, hung up the closed sign, and gestured for me to follow her downstairs. The basement turned out to be part storeroom and part production facility. The south wall was covered by shelves stocked to the brim with all kinds of jams and jellies, each labeled with the type of fruit within as well as the canning date. On the north wall was a table loaded with fruit presses, juicers, empty jars, and other production tools. Mrs. Millner took great pride in identifying each and every one of them, giving me a little history lesson on where and when she'd acquired the tools. The east wall was taken up by bins of fresh fruits: apples, blueberries, strawberries, and the like. She reached into a bin and pulled out an apple. "Free with purchase," she said, handing it to me. I thanked her and began munching on it. "I grow all my own ingredients in the garden. Nothing goes into my jams and jellies without being personally inspected and approved."

"What's in there?" I asked as I pointed to the steel door on the west wall.

"Oh, that's where I keep the sweetener."

"A whole room just for sugar?"

"No, I don't use sugar. It's too much trouble to make."

"Then how do you sweeten the jams?"

She unlocked the door and said "Have a look for yourself."

I stepped inside the dark room. I couldn't see a thing, but I did hear a faint buzzing coming from all around me. "What's that buzz?"

"Bees."

"Bees?"

"Bees. They make such delicious honey. It's much easier to sweeten the jams with honey, you know."

"It must be pretty cheap if you make the honey yourself, I'd imagine." I turned to go back to the basement proper, but found the door closing with a metallic clank. "Uh, Mrs. Millner? Open the door. I'm still in here."

"The honey's cheap, yes," Mrs. Millner said, her voice muffled by the door, "But the expensive part is keeping them fed. Do you know how much it costs to raise enough flowers to feed a room full of bees? I'm so glad you came in tonight. You're going to help cut my costs and then I can go back to selling my jams and jellies for only two dollars each."

I beat on the door, ramming it with my shoulder and giving it a series of good kicks. "Open this door, you crazy old bat!"

"Such rudeness," I heard her say. "I hope my bees find you sweeter than I do." Then came a series of metal clangs, most likely the sound of little crate doors opening in the darkness. The buzzing grew louder, filling the room with a reverberating hum.

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|   Delicious Jams And Jellies  |
|  Homemade - Guarenteed Fresh  |
|         $2.00                 |
|         $3.50 per jar         |
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Written for The Blood is the Life: A Frightful Halloween Quest.

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